Photos by Donna
In 1983, when I was in college, I found a simple recipe for pasta with chopped tomato, a half cup of basil and plenty of sautéed garlic. It was a brilliant, simple recipe I thought, and I made it for myself all the time. It’s only drawback was that little shards of the herb would occasionally stick in the roof of my mouth and were difficult to dislodge.
Three years later, living in Manhattan, picking up some pasta at my local bodega, I noticed big bunches of bright green basil for sale. “Ahhh!” I thought, index finger raised. “FRESH basil! I’ll bet that makes a difference!”
Indeed it did. And does. It’s a summer staple meal when tomato and basil are in full flourish and the wizened bearded guy at the market has his amazing German garlic in. But I like to remember how recently it was that the notion of using any fresh herb beyond curly parsley didn’t exist. I’d grown up in a home that loved to cook and loved to eat and yet throughout the sixties and the seventies I never saw a fresh herb beyond that parsley and some chives for the baked potato. The only herbs I saw came in little jars.
For tomatoes with basil, I salt the tomatoes about an hour in advance and toss it with some of the basil. I sauté a head of garlic, minced, just lightly, medium rare so that my skin will smell like garlic for the next two days, then pour in the juices from the tomatoes, bring this to a simmer and mount a lot more butter into this garlic and tomato-water sauce. Toss the pasta in the sauce, then toss in the tomatoes and top with the other half of the basil.
The night before, the meal was tomatoes with thyme and olive oil and whole cloves of roasted garlic, fried potatoes with fried sage sliced cucumber from the neighbor’s garden and buffalo mozzerella. Two vegetarian meals in a row. Accidents happen.